Book Review: The Graveyard Book

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THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman was recommended to me last Christmas by an individual that I thought least likely to ever recommend any type of fantasy literature. That person raved and raved about it and then went on to teach me a lesson in stereotypes by outlining their other favorite fantasy novels, but I started with Neil Gaiman’s phenomenal novel, The Graveyard Book.

THE GRAVEYARD BOOK BY NEIL GAIMAN

THE GRAVEYARD BOOK BY NEIL GAIMAN

I have to admit that this was my first ever Gaiman novel, though I knew the author’s name because I saw the movie version of STARDUST some years ago. I enjoyed STARDUST and promised myself that I would one day read the book, but while I never made the time for that I squeezed in the episode of DOCTOR WHO written by Gaiman, “THE DOCTOR’S WIFE”, and I was very impressed. Since then, I’ve had a strange fringe-relationship with Gaiman where I’m familiar-ish with the author despite never having technically ‘read‘ a word of his writing. When The Graveyard Book came to me so highly recommended from a person that I deeply respect, I picked it up without a moment’s delay.

THE GRAVEYARD BOOK is, perhaps, one of the most difficult books to adequately review that I’ve ever encountered. It is one of those rare novels that examines the most valuable question that anyone has ever asked: what’s the purpose of life? The novel follows Bod Owens, a toddler who has escaped a dark fate and is taken in, quite literally, by the nearby graveyard and the phantoms that inhabit it. Its ghosts and tombs and natural beauty become the little boy’s home and there he grows up, all the while learning more about the world he must be protected from, until the day when the dangers of his past catch up with him.

But do you want to know the truth? That might be what this book is about, but really it’s not about that at all. Gaiman is telling a personal, intimate story in this book. Not about himself, not necessarily, but certainly about everyone. This is a story about death, about growing up and growing old, and about Life.

I’ve read some of the most stirring passages that I’ve ever encountered in my career as a reader within this novel. I love that it’s a children’s book that is still so dangerously adult. I love that I honestly wanted to cry at the end of this book—not manly, crocodile tears but little kid tears.

That, I think, is what The Graveyard Book is about.

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Book Review: The Affinity Bridge

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The Affinity Bridge, by George Mann, was another one in the pile of books that I purchased as a birthday gift to myself. I know they say to never judge a book by it’s cover, but Mann’s cover certainly didn’t dissuade me from purchasing his novel. I am a fan of anything that flies in literature—private planes, jumbo jets, airships—for the practical utility they offer. So fast! So convenient! Mann’s cover then, an enormous airship above Victorian-Era London, sang to me in several ways.

Newbury and Hobbes, the novel’s protagonists, are academics; researchers employed by the British Museum as a cover for their other job as Crown investigators for Queen Victoria. In this fictional steampunk England, Sir Maurice Newbury (think Holmes!) and his assistant Veronica Hobbes (elementary, dear Watson!) are attempting to solve the riddle of a string of murders when an airship crash in London diverts their attention elsewhere. What follows is a brisk story of industrial intrigue, precision investigations, and appropriately romping action.

One of my more marked appreciations for this novel is perhaps the one that is most forward-thinking: Mann spins the trope of the helpless, witless assistant on its head. When it comes to endangered protagonists, I would argue that Hobbes does more of the saving than being saved; and true, Hobbes bumps into sexism on occasion, but Newbury insists on treating her as a fully capable equal. And, repeatedly, he is proven right when Hobbes is daringly more functional than he on occasion!

Beyond that, the plot isn’t terribly thick. Queen Victoria is strangely interested in a civilian airship crash; paupers are being murdered by a “glowing policeman” and the two main characters have private matters to contend with along the way but Mann’s triumph here is the creation of a gripping alternate 1901 London. A London where technological revolution has placed clockwork men on the streets and airships high above. In a very noticeable way London 1901 is the third protagonist of this novel and any reader who appreciates a good detective story and Victorian-London to boot are certain to enjoy themselves.

The novel’s cover declares itself to be “A Newbury and Hobbes Investigation” which, if intuition serves, would indicate that there are more on the way. And, if that isn’t enough, Mann sets the stage for future work with a phenomenal epilogue! Here’s to more “investigations!”

UPDATE: A quick jaunt around George Mann’s blog reveals that, in fact, there are multiple sequels  to THE AFFINITY BRIDGE (which was published in 2009—where have I been?!) which I must now, delightedly, purchase!

Book Buying Bonanza

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After my shopaholic stint at Barnes & Noble on my birthday, it’s safe to say that I’m stocked up on books for the foreseeable future. Eight books later, I’m still trying to figure out the order that I’m going to read all these excellent-looking novels. Also, I’ve noticed a trend: anything steampunk or urban fantasy wound up in the pile without hesitation—with a few exceptions. From smallest to largest, my purchases were: Continue reading

270 Pages Later

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This week marks several milestones. A birthday, a wedding, and now a page-count record breaker! This evening I reached 270 pages on my current manuscript, a number that surpasses the previous record-holder (my last manuscript was 256 pages) by a healthy 14 pages. What’s even more exciting is that I’m not finished with the current manuscript; checking my location against my roadmap for this manuscript suggests to me that I’m around 2/3 complete, overall.

I expect this current manuscript to be finished near the 350 page mark, if I’m lucky! That would be such an amazing feat, especially since I originally thought that this project wouldn’t be more than 250 pages long—and that was back when I also thought the first manuscript would be around 200 pages instead of the 256 pages it eventually became. Looking back, I can’t help but appreciate that this has all been accomplished in a little over 17 months.

To offer some perspective, I was struck by inspiration for this project in the wake of publishing SOMEONE TO REMEMBER ME last February. I wanted to create a very strong, very opinionated female lead and the notion more or less fell into place with another idea that I had been kicking around for ages: to write a more contemporary, more dangerous book that blended fiction and nonfiction, as well as the possibilities of fantasy with the starkness of reality.

I wanted to tackle terrorism and fanaticism; the dangers of the police state and the risks of the unbridled revolution. And the current project went from being planned to being written. Quite abruptly I began writing about Sarah al Villete, the terrorist waging a war against the world’s last government on the world’s last habitable continent. More for her personal lust for revenge rather than the benefit of humanity. Hundreds of pages later, I’m regularly examining the weary questions of war and faith—of what happens when belief clashes with the unwieldy nature of reality.

Originally, I wanted just one big book. I tend to go on a rant against the saturation of the Fantasy and Science-Fiction genres by series. It felt, to me, that whenever I picked up a book in that aisle it was always book three or four in the this-or-that series. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good series as much as anybody but sometimes you want one great, mind-blowing book. Not three or four. Just every once in a while, you know?

So I endeavored to write that type of book and, unsurprisingly, it turned into a total beast on its own. So here I am on part two of a three part mega-book that currently sits at 526 pages and 293,622 words. And it’s worth mentioning that those aren’t book pages—they’re freaking single-spaced, 8 and 1/2 by 11 pages which is sooo much more impressive than those tiny little double-spaced pages you get in normal books. Seriously, go take a peek in that book on your desk—I guarantee you that sucker is at least 1.5 or double space font.

But I digress.

This is a week of milestones, today included. I’m glad that this goes out to at least a handful of people who can appreciate the steady and onward march of creative progress. May your projects continue as swimmingly as mine have.

Comic Con 2013: It’s Like A Bad Relationship

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luck

(noun)

1 San Diego, CA. ANTONYMS Oakland, Dallas, Tallahassee, Oakland.

2 To currently live in San Diego, CA. ANTONYMS currently living anywhere BUT San Diego, CA.

When I think of the annual popular arts phenomenon that sweeps into the heart of Downtown San Diego, CA every year in late July I often experience an absolute bevy of emotions. That’s right, you heard me—a bevy. Going to Comic Con (for us ritualists who defy the odds and manage get in every freaking year) is a breathtaking, nerve-wracking, oft infuriating event that, despite the abuse it heaps upon us, leaves us wanting for more. After discussing it with a friend, we concluded that being a regular Comic Con attendee is like being a bad relationship of hopeless, and utter, dependence. Conversations about the lines (and the infamous Hall H ‘eyeball + pencil = tragedy’ event that was 2011) and subpar programming are rife and oppressive, but I’ll try to be level-headed in my reflection.

Which, incidentally, is remarkably positive this year. Looking back, I went into this year very excited but also reserved; the sheer hassle of the event had stripped it of its appeal in recent years. I should also note that going into Comic Con 2013 I was one very sick boy and, incidentally, that forced me to really conserve strength and to leave when I started to feel exhausted and not three or four hours after the fatigue set in. That prevented burn-out in the first two days which, in the long run, helped me enjoy the event that much more. So let’s talk Con!

Wednesday July 17

Preview night was straightforward but, oh Dear Sweet God, was traffic a nightmare. Ultimately, I only spent about an hour and a half at Preview Night because the 8 and the 5 freeways were such awful messes. Still, it was nice to think that I was cruising the floor on the emptiest possible night but it felt like there were WAY more people at Preview Night 2013 than in previous years. I honestly think they’re selling more 4 Day + Preview night badges now than they ever have in the past because that’s what it looked like on the ground. But, as is the case with most things, I can’t know for sure.

Thursday July 18

I didn’t do anything on Thursday. None of the programming struck me as particularly fascinating so I got there around 1pm and left around 3pm or so because, again, I was not feeling well. I credit Thursday with really forcing me to rest and recover because on Friday…

Friday July 19

…I totally overslept. I mean, I only overslept by like a half hour but that meant leaving at 7:30 which put me at the convention center by 9:00 and at that point the line for the panel that I wanted to get into with a passion—THE LEGEND OF KORRA—was crazy long. I gave up hope of getting in and walked the line, just to see how long it was when a friend from work flagged me down and singlehandedly salvaged my day. KORRA is Nickelodeon’s sequel to it’s animated smash hit AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER, but KORRA wrapped up season one before last year’s Comic Con—which meant that I, as a fan, had been deprived of Korra for more than a year! During the cast and crew Q&A panel the show-runners  Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino showed us an awesome trailer for Book Two: Spirits.

…and then they aired the whole premier.

At which point I promptly pooped my pants.

So the actual panel was relatively brief, having ceded nearly all their time to the premier, which was indescribably awesome.

Skipping past the BONES panel (which didn’t interest me at all) we came to the next big event Marvel’s AGENTS OF SHIELD. Now, I’ve been broadly following the development of this show and, as a big fan of Marvel’s THE AVENGERS I was excited to see Joss Whedon promote the new television show, since his TV chops are well-establish by now after BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, ANGEL, FIREFLY, and DOLLHOUSE.

Whedon trots the whole cast out, everyone (me, too) freaks the eff out for Clark Gregg (#coulsonlives) and then they start taking questions. Second question is a lady who asks about seeing a clip or a trailer. Whedon sagely blames Disney, saying that the lawyers won’t let them show a clip or even a trailer. Everyone boos because, if there’s one thing we nerds understand, it is the indomitable evil that is the Walt Disney Company. Backpedaling, Whedon clarifies, “We can’t show you a clip. So we’re gonna show the whole premier.”

Cue the explosive applause, which sounded much more like a bomb going off, and then they showed the whole 40 minute first episode of AGENTS OF SHIELD. I thought it was brilliant—I recommend that you check it out when it hits Sept 24 on ABC. Of course, we went bananas for it and subsequently showered our adoration upon Whedon and the cast but that, for me at least, wrapped up Friday.

Saturday July 21

Oh, boy. By Saturday I was feeling great and I chose to celebrate my renewed health in the most sane way possible: by leaving home at 4am with the foolish notion of getting into the Hall H line for the Marvel panel at the end of the day. I was at the Convention Center by 5:20am but the line, if you’re familiar with the area, wrapped behind the convention center and went as far as the marina. That, in the vernacular, meant that I was not getting in. Knowing that, I jumped ship to the Ballroom 20 line where I perched myself expectantly.

The morning’s first panel was ONCE UPON A TIME IN WONDERLAND, a spin-off of the wildly popular ONCE UPON A TIME that debuted in 2011. Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, the creators and runners of both shows, mentioned that what they eventually showed to us of WONDERLAND was a rough cut but—and I preface this with an acknowledgment of slackened expectations—it wasn’t really all that good. None of the characters were particularly well-acted and the CG seemed over the top and this is tough for me to say, since I’m a fan of the original ONCE UPON A TIME.

Afterwards was the panel for the original ONCE UPON A TIME, a tactic intended to market the new show to us veteran fans of the first one. ONCE UPON A TIME had an incredibly strong debut in its first season but has really floundered in season 2, eventually straggling along for a stronger ending. With season 3 less than two months away, they had an uphill battle to prove to us that the excursion to Wonderland to save Henry will be worth our time. Kitsis and Horowtiz made mention that filming started this week, and that when the show debuts it will air 10 episodes without interruption in the fall with the remaining episodes airing uninterrupted in the spring. LOST, a show that Kitsis and Horowitz both worked on and that continues to exert massive influence over their newest creations, experimented with a similar concept by airing seasons 4, 5, and 6 uninterrupted in their respective Spring time-slots.

Afterwards, we transitioned to the FUTURAMA panel. Futurama was cancelled by Comedy Central—something that I’m incredibly sore about. THE SIMPSONS is 25 seasons old, not super funny, and yet still on the air. Futurama is ending its 9th and final season, still funny and relevant, but getting canned. Still, the show’s runners David X. Cohen and Matt Groening poked good fun and made it a panel to remember with drawing contests and airing part of the series finale: Fry is falling to his death, and has a time-reverse button that takes him exactly 10 seconds into the past—right after he made the fateful jump. Brilliant, poignant, and hilarious; exactly how FUTURAMA should end.

Then there was THE SIMPSONS panel immediately after; none of the voice actors showed because, let’s face it, the show is 25 years old and they don’t have to try anymore. Groening was up there with Al Jean and confirmed a Simpsons/Family Guy crossover among other things.

Skipping ahead to the FAMILY GUY panel, which is always good fun—Seth MacFarlane was off filming his new movie but most of the cast (sans Mila Kunis) was there. What’s always hilarious about this panel is that Alex Borstein and Seth Green, who are fully aware each year that there’s a sign-language translator in the Accessibility area of the crowd, persisted to spew out the most disgusting terms in an effort to fluster the translators. It’s hilarious but not something I can really repeat here, but, you know, YouTube it.

Succeeding the FAMILY GUY panel was the AMERICAN DAD panel which was less of an affair than its big brother panel given what I assume is the state of tumult the show is in. AMERICAN DAD was quietly cancelled by FOX and will finish the already completed tenth season on FOX but, and this struck me as bizarre, it has been picked up by TBS. Movements of this kind usually indicate that a show is in its death throes, and I hope this isn’t the case because I LOVE American Dad and find it superior to FAMILY GUY in every way, but I’m worried for the show’s future. THE CLEVELAND SHOW was also quietly cancelled but its lukewarm  performance and reception has kept it dead.

The end of the FAMILY GUY panel also meant a big break in my day. From there on out I was free to wander the floor of the convention hall, and below are an assortment of photos.

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The floor was packed; simply pulsing with humanity.

IMG_2293They reduced the number of independent artists this year, and decreased the amount of novelty booths. The wooden mustache booth was gone!

Also present were neat products and models.

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A large model of the USS VENGEANCE from STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS.

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The POWER RANGERS franchise is celebrating 20 years of childhood amazingness.

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A model of DEATHWING from WORLD OF WARCRAFT.

At 7:30, as something of a Comic Con tradition, I closed out my Con weekend by attending Kevin Smith‘s panel in Hall H. Smith is a strikingly genuine filmmaker who has devoted a better part of the last few years to advocating and supporting new and upcoming filmmakers. Always uproarious and often pensive, Kevin does a great job of balancing humor with real-world experiences. Beyond that, I can’t remember much because I was…so…very…tired… Nevertheless, he’s a brilliant guy and the crowd for his panel seemed noticeably healthier this year than in years passed.

Afterwards, I made the victorious journey home. Comic Con 2013 was an success! Great shows, great panels, great sneak peeks at the upcoming television season! This event really shines when it honors the nerds, the geeks, and the hopeless many who congregate and preach their favorite popular arts phenomenons—and that is exactly what happened this year.

I’m ready to start planning for the Con 2014—if I can get tickets, that is.

— Brendan

The Ecstasy of Creation

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“On the evening of October 1st, 2012—I completed the largest manuscript that I’ve ever written. At 257 single-spaced pages, at 146,322 words, this is the most ambitious project that I’ve ever executed. After almost 7.5 months it is finally finished, and while there’s still so much work to do (editing, revising, editing again), I’m so grateful to everyone who’s asked about the process and posted encouraging comments to Facebook when it seemed like each of my posts was an update on page numbers and word count. Tonight, I rest. And then tomorrow? Back to work.”

 

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